Author Ray Bradbury died today in Los Angeles. He was 91.
As a child of the pre-Internet, Bradbury’s writing was just on the apex between a grave, plastic future foreseen by Star Wars and the brushwork and filigree of the dreams and hopes of a previous century. Reading him was like reading a story written on a cave wall – true, indelible, and exceedingly strange. He wrote horror without being bloody, he wrote sci-fi without being fussy, and he wrote of lives that went on long before mine. He wrote about what had happened in the basements of our childhood homes fifty, seventy five years before. He explained the fear hidden in the root cellar and the spice of old bottles of homemade catsup kept in the garage. He explained why grandpa had a jar of mismatched screws (he was probably building something wonderful, long ago) and told us about fire balloons and martians and murderers. He told us what to expect at the end of the world and he told us to watch out for our kids. He told us books were important and he told us that old people were once children.
He was a curmudgeon who never learned to drive and Los Angeles grew up around him and swallowed him so that he probably didn’t get far without help in his last days. His vision of America and the future was at odds with our culture. He wanted family and a world bright as diamonds. Instead we got a diaspora and a world that looks sooted with fear.
But his work brushes off that soot. His work – and he worked endlessly, writing story after story, rain or shine – is there to remind us that we’re not worthless, that our greatest gift to posterity is our writing and our creative energy, that no matter what the efforts of wicked men may bring, there are still people walking around with books in their heads.
Here’s Bradbury’s beginning, a bit from Dandelion Wine:The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened.I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!
He yelled it loud but silent, a dozen times! Think of it, think of it! Twelve years old and only now! Now discovering this rare timepiece, this clock gold-bright and guaranteed to run threescore and ten, left under a tree and found while wrestling.
And now we know the end.